One of our goals as parents is to have our children be courteous and respectful of others (good citizens). A significant part of this is reflected in one’s words and deeds.
There are certain words in our society that are appropriately considered distasteful and should be avoided (though we have all slipped at one time or another). I’m sure we can all come up with a list of such words to be avoided. When we hear these words uttered by our children, we take a variety of steps to prevent such a recurrence in the future. I’m also sure that one of those words we do not want our children to say is the s-word. I think you know which word I mean. But let me tell you a story that I heard in the past.
A five-year-old boy came running to his parents after being with a group of older boys. He exclaims, “Mommy, Daddy, those boys used the s-word!” His parents are glad that he recognizes that the s-word should not be used and reinforce that to him. He then replies, “I know they should not have called the other boy stupid!”
The s-word that this young child recognized was not the one his parents had anticipated. Instead of the “classic” s-word, he felt that stupid was a word that should not be used to describe other people. This example has prompted me to consider s-words to be avoided and s-words to embrace.
My short list of s-words to avoid –
- Stupid – whenever we call someone stupid, we are using a demeaning word that puts us above others.There is no place in rational discourse for words that belittle people. To say “You’re stupid” to another person tends to label that person and certainly doesn’t help as we try to work together for a common goal – being good citizens and working toward community improvement. There are other more diplomatic ways to express one’s displeasure for an apparent lack of understanding.
- Shut Up – I think that this expression is one of the rudest expressions in our society.It’s never used in a positive manner and only serves to raise negative emotions or feelings. A parent should never tell their child to “shut up.” There are other ways to ask people to be quiet without being mean.
My short list of s-words to embrace –
- Sorry – seeking forgiveness for misdeeds in our daily lives should be a frequent occurrence.We need to be able to ask forgiveness and extend forgiveness. Saying “I’m sorry” with honesty is one of the most humbling things that we do yet, at the same time, is one of the most loving things that we do. Sorry is an s-word to be whole-heartedly embraced.
- Sincere – this is not a word that one uses in conversation but one that should be the backbone of all of our interactions with others.We should always be sincere (honest, truthful, without pretense) as we deal with each other. It’s often hard to do but worthy of our continued effort.
A point of clarification. I have previously noted that one can have significant dislike for another’s behavior but should avoid expressing that as hatred toward that person.1 I do think that behavior can be “stupid” (brutish, short-sighted, irrelevant, ill-advised). Those endorsing lies to advance ill-gotten gains might be said to exhibit stupid behavior, but I would still stop short of calling them stupid.
Just like the word “hate” leads too often to malicious backlash (usually violence) that causes more harm than good, the simple declaration that somebody is stupid is too easily used to demean or belittle far too many people. It is used to describe anyone who disagrees with us – or worse yet, the term is used to negatively describe someone with an intellectual disability or to accuse someone of having an intellectual disability.
I think the word stupid is similar to hate. We can look on these intense dislikes as opportunities for improvement. When we call someone stupid, we are closed to rational discourse – we are right, and they are wrong. We should allow for room to improve how we interact and treat each other.
Our words and deeds define our ability to work together for the common good. Let’s be mindful of our choice of words and our actions so that we can move forward, not backward. Demeaning or belittling remarks have no place in our interactions with others. Let’s only use good s-words!